Somali Leadership and the Camel Train Conundrum

I suspect most people have an idea of what a camel train looks like; those that never experienced a bucolic upbringing must at least have seen a photo or drawing of this magnificent procession in book, postcard or some other instrument of modern life. It is an icon of simple beauty; and icons invariably breed more than a few conundrums.

One mind-twister that was particularly popular with kids involved the challenge of cobbling up a camel train from a group of individual bulls each of whom had debility and posed an existential threat to the rest. One was said to beDad-cun and could bite off the human driver’s head. Another was Awr-cun, a notorious cannibal who could easily feast on the preceding camel’s rump. Yet another was said to be Heeryo-cun; mild-mannered, not as nasty as the previous two but with a debilitating penchant for consuming the grassy mats supporting the load on the back of the preceding pack camel. The fourth camel presented an entirely different headache; this bull was not as atrocious as the other three, but he had no tail. The last bull was the Caddaysimo, the unloaded contingency bull. The number of camels could be more, and their individual debilities depicted differently, depending on the setting.


Permutations. Each animal should be roped to the tail of the one before it and the reigns of the leading animal will be held by the driver. Which bull leads? Which follows which? Which is placed at the rear of the train? Of course, you could cock the head skywards, run a brief mental scan and draw up one or two viable options to construct a caravan out of this group of seemingly disjointed camels. But that is not the point. It was supposed to be a strictly time-delimited brain-teaser; ruminating over a cup or two of tea while working out the sequence was not an option. If you did not resolve it in a matter of seconds, the relevance was lost.

If you are the train driver, you would want to put a healthy distance, and a few camels, between you and Dadcun – for very obvious reasons: an inexplicable surge of testosterone and you could easily part ways with your neck before you know what hit you. But this guy’s risk potential is mitigated by the fact that he poses a threat only to the human driver, not the rest of the camels. Therefore, he cannot follow the human leader.

Awr-cun is not as charitable. Possessed by cannibal demons, he has an addictive obsession to bite and lacerate and bully other camels. Putting a camel before this maniacal brute is bound to have calamitous outcomes, the lightest of which could be at least one camel with a savagely punctured rump and festering wounds. This kindred-killer cannot come after another camel.  Fortunately, his backside is not as rapacious as its front, so other camels may be tied to its tail.

The third loony in this rogue’s gallery of rabid ungulates is Heeryo-cun. Significantly more benign than the previous two savages, he poses no threat to humans or other beasts. His problem lies with what is on the back of other camels. Between the back of a pack animal and the load is a foundation, usually matted grass to cushion the animal. Heeryo-cun will wolf down anything made of grass, and strip the other camel’s cushion leaving nothing between the animal’s skin and stinging wickerwork. He cannot follow another loaded animal.

The fourth camel is constitutionally sound, both in temperament and work ethic, carrying his baggage with minimal fuss and with religious devotion to the train’s leadership. He just does not have a tail to rope the animal after him and, consequently, cannot lead.

The last animal, Caddaysimo, is a spare camel for contingency and will replace any of the other camels if incapacitated for whatever reason. His utility as the joker of the pack extends profoundly beyond the confines of the actual train, though.